|August 9, 2011, Issue # 2
Organizing the "Non-Visible" forms of Clutter: Electronic Information
Last quarter I mentioned “visible” and “non-visible” forms of clutter – electronic information is a form of “non-visible” clutter that leads to an increase in lost productivity. While it may not “look” disorganized, the amount of money wasted each year by companies is staggering. Time is easily wasted when you or your fellow employees can’t find electronic files or end up using the incorrect version of a file. Productivity also decreases when you spend your precious time looking for e-mails that either had a non-descriptive subject line, you are unable to find an e-mail you filed or you lack a well-organized filing structure.
“Corporate users receive an average of 110 message a day in 2010” as reported by the Radicati Group in USA Today on 2/2/11.
This month’s article will help you with all of these challenges – as I will provide you with techniques to:
- Implement File Naming Convention Best Practices
- Implement Version Control for Your Electronic Documents
- Write Descriptive E-mail Subject Lines
- Use Acronyms in the Subject Line
- Change the Subject Line for Quick Future Retrieval
- Create an Organized Inbox Filing Structure
Implement File Naming Convention Best Practices
- Give your document a description file name. The name of the file should tell you what it contains so that you don’t need to open it to uncover its contents.
- Start general, and move to the specifics. Using more general or broader terms at the beginning of the file name (like the project or event name) and putting the more detailed description at the end (such as the date, version or initials of the creator) will quickly narrow your search.
- Start with “File Save As.” If you plan to modify an existing document, do a “File Save As” so that you can be assured you don’t accidentally overwrite the existing version.
- Don’t use extraneous characters. Limit special characters to a dash, underscore or a dot.
- Include a date. Use a date as part of the file name to show when the document was created or revised. Don’t rely on the “Save As” date or created date to provide you with this information.
- Use document versions. Implement a version control system to show the latest version of the document.
- Use initials. Implement a policy to include the initials of the individual or department that created or modified the document. For example, a file name with the initials of hrrs at the end of it stands for Human Resources Robert Strasser. Or you could just include the initials of hr or rs at the end.
Implement Version Control
Using version or revision numbers on your documents will help you and others distinguish which document is the most current. When working on a document with others, it is a good idea to save the file with the next version or revision number before you start making changes; this way you have th previous version should you need to refer back to it.
Use a ‘V’ or ‘Ver’ for the version number in the document or an ‘R’ or ‘Rev’ for the revision number. Whichever you pick, standardize on it. Although you can use tracking features in documents or file system versioning control, I would not advice relying solely on this method.
Here are some descriptive file names using version control
Outlook 2010 Presentation to Coca Cola 4.15.11 V2.docx
Relocation Policies and Procedures 3.23.11.docx
Eliminate the Chaos at Work – POC 4.19.11.ppt
Descriptive E-mail Subject Lines
Subject lines should tell e-mail recipients what the e-mail is about, without having to open it. A descriptive subject line also helps in the future when someone is searching for an e-mail using key words. When composing the subject line, go from broad to specific.
Examples: Advertising Information for 8.20.11 Deadline
Follow Up from NSA Information – Information You Requested
Use Acronyms in the Subject Line
Sometimes you need to send a one-line e-mail. Why bother writing a descriptive subject line and then restating it in the body of the e-mail? Use the following acronyms at the beginning or end of your subject line:
EOM = End of Message. In other words, your e-mail recipient doesn’t need to open the e-mail to read the message.
NRN = No Response Necessary. Now the recipient knows you don’t expect a response.
RN = Response Needed. While this should be obvious, you can’t always assume!
AR = Action Required. A simple way to sort e-mail sent to co-workers that requires action.
Change the Subject Line for Quick Future Retrieval (for Outlook)
- Move the e-mail to its destination and open it.
- Select the text in the “Subject line” and delete it.
- Type your new, more descriptive subject line.
- Save and close the e-mail.
Create an Organized Inbox Filing Structure
Think about your e-mail inbox like your “inbox” for paper. You wouldn’t leave papers in your inbox of hard-copy material that needs to be recycled, shredded, forwarded or filed; you’d put them in the proper location. Your e-mail inbox is no different.
Think of the first level of file folders as your filing cabinets in your e-mail filing system. I typically use a minimum of three folders: one for work, one for personal and one for volunteer work. Then, I add on folders for current projects and as temporary holding locations.
Like most other people, I typically work on a number of projects during the same time frame: I do not want to continually open the Eliminate Chaos filing cabinet (or in this case – expand the folder) that contains all e-mails relevant to the projects in order to file something. This system allows me the flexibility to do so. When the project is complete, I move the entire folder to the Eliminate Chaos folder. Because each of my Project files starts with the word Project, I can be assured that they will all be filed next to each other in the Eliminate Chaos drawer.
The other type of file I create is what I call a temporary file. The *After Board Meeting folder is a place for me to temporarily place e-mails that require action, but that I can’t address while I’m traveling. I simply move e-mails that require action to this filed until I’ve returned to the office. Once I’ve returned, I pull all of those e-mails back into my Inbox to process them. This allows me to see at a glance only those items in my Inbox that I know I can tackle while I’m traveling.
I hope you will spend a few minutes of time to try some of these very simple and quick techniques that will pay huge dividends and save you more time than it did implement them. Would love to hear your stories about how these ideas have helped you “Eliminate the Chaos at Work.”
Until next quarter…may your days be productive!
Laura Leist, CPO
Founder, Eliminate Chaos
Author, Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 25 Techniques to Increase Productivity